Has the city of Wilmington, North Carolina completed its DTV transition? Not exactly, the town's Fire and Life Safety educator Andrea Good told Ars Technica this morning. "It's still going, actually," Good explained—going in the sense that some of the city's residents still haven't figured out how to make their television sets work.
With great fanfare and ceremony, Wilmington pulled the plug on analog TV on Monday at noon, about six months before the rest of the country will do so on February 17. The Federal Communications Commission chose the city and area of around 400,000 TV viewers for this test-run to get a sense of what problems transitioners might encounter, and it looks like the data is coming in. Ars contacted a half-dozen public safety agencies in the area today to get their assessment. Three got back to us.
I'm still fuzzy on this
Good thinks Wilmington has done pretty well, she said. On the other hand, "we got a lot more calls than we thought we would." Her fire and life department ran a help line for seniors and people with disabilities. But many of the 200 calls the service has received so far have come from a wide spectrum of people. The issues include difficulty installing those converter set top boxes that turn old analog sets into digital receivers, or pushing that "autoscan" button on the box so the device can figure out which channels are out there. "Some people just figured they could just plug the box in and it would work," Good said.
Weak and fuzzy images from various TV stations have also been a problem for some callers. "A lot of people haven't been getting signals," said Donna Pridgen, administrative assistant for the Town of Burgaw's police department, which gets its TV coverage from Wilmington. Her office has been helping install the digital set top boxes, and has gotten about 50 calls since Monday. The area's public TV station comes in fine, Pridgen said, but some residents have been having trouble picking up channel six, WETC.
The NBC affiliate's general manager didn't return Ars' phone call about possible problems, but Kip Godwin of Kipling Godwin Associates, told us that channel six may have relocated its transmitter recently, and that's probably why some couch potatoes are getting weak service. WETC will probably have the problem fixed in a few weeks or sooner, he suspects.
Batteries not included?
Kipling Godwin Associates has contracted with the Federal Communications Commission to troubleshoot converter box problems for area residents. Godwin says he has fielded about 250 calls. The number one problem that converter box users have is that they don't remember that they've got to keep their TV set on a specific channel to make the set top box work. Number two seems to be that they don't remember to put batteries in the box's remote.
But the more fundamental problem, Godwin confided after pausing to find diplomatic words, is that the written instructions for these converter box manuals are "kind of hard to read." If Godwin had to offer some advice about preparing for February 17 based on the Wilmington experience, it would be to provide better-written converter box installation instructions for the public.
The Wilmington area's Elon University School of Communications deployed a team of students to document and help out with the transition. They report that replacing old TV antennas represented a significant task that some residents had to clear. But Elon's overall initial take is that most of the area's residents knew about the event and were ready.
"The good news in these calls is that people were aware of the transition,” said Professor Connie Book, the school's associate dean. "TV stations need to be prepared as they make the switch for calls like these where viewers need someone to walk them through the correct installation steps for their converter boxes and tuning to a digital frequency."
The FCC also released data today on the Wilmington transition that confirms this impression. Of the approximately 14,000 houseolds that receive over-the-air analog TV in the area, around 1,200 called the FCC's DTV helpline with various concerns on Monday and Tuesday. But the vast majority knew about the transition and just needed converter box help.A lot of calls were about that NBC affiliate.
Based on the FCC's intel and this admittedly brief survey of the Wilmington area's front line troubleshooters, it appears that the transition has been going well. But everybody we talked to drew the same lesson for the over 3,000 U.S. counties that still have to complete the ordeal: mobilize as much professional and volunteer help as possible for the many analog TV watchers who, despite everyone's best efforts, will draw a blank screen on February 18.Posted on